Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Real History: World's Oldest Known Cave Paining Found In Indonsia

 Archaeologists have discovered the world’s oldest known cave painting: a life-sized picture of a wild pig that was made at least 45,500 years ago in Indonesia.

The finding, described in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday, provides the earliest evidence of human settlement of the region.

Read the full article and see a picture here: World's oldest known cave painting found in Indonesia

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Shout Out: War Elephants

Another shout out, this time to a set of articles about the use of war Elephants in ancient times. War Elephants are useful but rely on a more sophisticated logistical setup not least because most Elephants are not read until they are several decades old.

To sum up: elephants were powerful, but by no means unstoppable weapons in war. While a well-deployed corps of war elephants could pose a very tough tactical problem to an enemy army, well-trained infantry could overcome elephants at a fraction of the logistic and economic cost. Elephants remained in long-term use as weapons where they were both cheaper, but also crucially where their display reinforced the power and prestige of warrior-aristocrats and especially kings.

War Elephants, Part I: Battle Pachyderms

War Elephants, Part II: Elephants against Wolves

War Elephants, Part III: Elephant Memories

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sundaland Deviant Art Inspiration Board

Artwork by Matthew Watts, click for a larger view.

I've created a new inspiration board on Deviant Art which hosts lots of great artwork that is very evocative of the Sundaland setting. You can find it here

And in case you missed it here's my Pinterest board: Pinterest: Sundaland Inspiration Board

Friday, November 13, 2020

Real History: The Megaliths of Bada Valley

There's a valley in Sulawesi that contains lots of weird megaliths. It's funny that I was imagining these kinds of large statues in my game of Elephant Queens & Tiger Kings. It turns out they really exist in this part of the world!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Shout Out: Practical Polytheism

I don't write much about religion because like magic I think that the more you try to clearly define everything the less interesting it becomes. There should be ambiguity and unfamiliarity about it in order to keep it somewhat mysterious. Only the priests and religious leaders understand all the intricate rituals necessary to appease or ask favours from the gods, and even they don't always get it right.

But I found this series of articles about Polytheistic religions really interesting. It mostly explains things through examples of the ancient Roman and Greek religions but I'm sure a lot of it could apply to religions from other eras. Personally I like to make Astrology an important aspect of the religion because ancient peoples were fascinated with the motions of the planets and stars and according to writers like Graham Hancock monuments like the Pyramids or Ankor Watt were built on top of even older sites that were intended to mirror or help track what could be seen in the night sky.

Practical Polytheism 1: Knowledge

Practical Polytheism 3: Practice

Practical Polytheism 2: Polling the Gods

Practical Polytheism 4: Little Gods and Big People

The articles go into quite a bit of depth and I highly recommend you read them if you want inspiration for adding realistic Polytheism to your setting.

But if you want a quick overview of the writer's conclusions he provides the summary which I'm quoting here:

  • Polytheistic religion is less about ethics or worldview and more about achieving practical results, by venerating, pleasing or appeasing the right gods.
  • Because many gods can produce practical results for you – both good and bad! – you cannot pick and choose, but must venerate many of the relevant gods.
  • A society learns how to do this by doing: successful practices are codified into tradition and repeated, creating a body of knowledge about the gods which is carried on through generations by tradition.
  • Rituals, including sacrifices, vows and offerings, in polytheistic religions are intended to produce concrete, specific, and usually earthly results for the participants or their broader community.
  • They do this through the mechanism of do ut des, whereby the individual or community offers something (sacrifice, votive, etc) to the god in exchange for the given result.
  • The god can either accept that bargain (the ritual succeeds) or refuse it (the ritual fails). The humans may impose qualifications and legalism on the bargain, but of course, the god may also just refuse.
  • Finally, the rituals are performed with exactness, focusing on orthopraxy – correct ritual practice. Failure to perform any element of the ritual correctly will likely cause the ritual to fail.
  • Gods in a polytheistic system are often immanent and present in human society; they are (powerful, mysterious and sometimes difficult) members of the community.
  • Consequently, they expect to be consulted for their opinion on important matters, but they can also be a source of good information on matters both large and important, or small and personal.
  • This process is an act of communication, not passive observation: the gods can refuse to answer, or send conflicting signals or even lie, if it suits their ends, although for the most part, so long as the traditional forms are followed, the god consulted will render their advice faithfully.
  • There is a fantastic diversity of methods in consulting the gods. We’ve left out entire categories here – mostly oracular statements – but each culture has its own systems.
  • Because these systems of religious practice are based on knowledge and on repeating what works, they are readily capable of borrowing gods and rituals from foreign cultures which seem to work, including (but certainly not limited to) divination practices.
And that finally gets us to the biggest take-away of this series, which is that these systems make a very real sort of sense. The common temptation as moderns reading history is to assume that everyone in the past was just stupid (as if we don’t believe similarly ridiculous things!) or that all of the ‘smart’ ones (and so often ‘smart’ is unthinkingly equated with ‘rich elites’) viewed this all cynically. As I have said before, and I will say again, it is generally safe to assume that people in the past believed their own religion.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Fiction: An Account of Sundaland by Alom Tikal

I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that I've collected all the writings of Alom Tikal on one page and linked to them from the right hand menu. I will keep the page updated as I discover more tales from Sundaland.

Now you can read them all in one place if you wish: An Account of Sundaland by Alom Tikal

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Elephant Queens & Tiger Kings - 5: Arriving at the City of Pearls

Read the the previous episode: Elephant Queens & Tiger Kings - 4: Safe Passage

Last time Auko and my character (Kiakro) facilitated a reconciliation process between two villages. As a reward we were provided with supplies and a guide to take us the rest of the way to the City of Pearls.

We've been travelling for a couple of days, leaving denser forests behind and moving further into the lowlands. Except for low undulating hills the landscape flattens out. Since the rainy season has only just finished the landscape is lush and green. We walk across grasslands and through lightly forested areas. When cresting a ridge we often have an unobstructed view. 

With each passing day we start coming across more villages and settlements. Most of the people living here survive from hunting, fishing and tending gardens of fruit and vegetables. Some have figured out how to reliably attract wild pigs with a designated rubbish dump, which provides the villagers with easy pickings. 

On the third day we come across a wide, raised and paved road, a minimum of knee height above the surroundings, sometimes higher. This is where our guide leaves us, pointing us in the right direction to reach our destination within another day's walk. We make camp by the side of the road and will set out at daybreak.

Since we already had a partial success on the Reach Your Destination move in episode 3 (which resulted in the encounter with the village in episode 4) I'm going to assume there are no further complications ahead.

The following day we start walking down the road and soon start encountering other travellers. There are merchant caravans, sometimes a couple of water buffalo pulling carts, other times leading groups of captives carrying goods on their heads and backs. There are also pilgrims, priests and groups of soldiers with plumed helmets and long spears, occasionally lead by commanders riding elephants. Little attention is paid to lowly people like ourselves but we're careful and weary of being captured again. We keep our distance and our heads down.

Finally in the mid afternoon we see it on the horizon, the white walls of the City of Pearls.

I decide that this is a milestone in our relationship. We successfully escaped our captors and reached the city. I will trigger the Forge a Bond move with Auko. 

Move: Forge a Bond

Action Die: Roll 1d6 + Hearts (1) = 2 + 1 for a total of 3.

Challenge Dice: Roll 2d10 = 1 and 1.

Strong Hit and an Opportunity because of the matched Challenge die.

I can choose either +2 momentum or +1 spirit. I've already have a maxed out spirit of +5 but only 9 momentum so I decide to take that to 10 (I can't increase momentum above 10).

I also decide that because we've started to Forge a Bond that I can add him as a Companion Asset. I mark the Bonded option.

I'm going to roll up some details about the city and the culture of its people using my Sundaland tables. I won't weave all the results together just yet, but will do so as the game develops. I hand picked the first result, for the Cultural Archetype because this city is going to serve as a base for my character and I don't want it to be too 'out there'. All the other results are random.